Conscription for Military Service

April 24, 1939

Report Outline
Conscription and the Anti-Aggression Front
Conscription on the Continent of Europe
Great Britain and Compulsory Service
American Experience with Conscription

Conscription and the Anti-Aggression Front

Steady deterioration of the European situation has increased the likelihood that Great Britain will be forced to round out her defense program by adopting some form of compulsory military service. When the British government took the unprecedented step of pledging immediate military aid to countries of Central and Eastern Europe in case of aggression, it became virtually certain that if the dictators should decide to accept the challenge, the result would be a general war in which England would be involved from the start. The importance of organizing and training the manpower of the nation to put it in readiness for such an emergency thus became clearly apparent.

Last December the London government announced plans for the opening of a National Service Register for the listing and recruiting of volunteers for the various civilian defense services. The belief was stated at that time that such a voluntary register would meet all practical needs until an emergency arose. The results of the plan to date, however, have been disappointing. Last October, Prime Minister Chamberlain declared in the House of Commons “that conscription or compulsory national service will not be introduced by this government in peace time.” In view of this pledge, repeated informally at the end of last month, it has been assumed that conscription for the armed forces or for vital civilian defense services will not be adopted without the prior approval of the voters in a general election. Swift-moving European developments now make it seem probable that conscription will come, with or without such a mandate, unless Hitler adopts a conciliatory tone in his address to the Reichstag this week.

While Great Britain in introducing conscription would depart from a national tradition broken previously only in the midst of the World War, she would at the same time merely be following the example of other European countries. Conscription, in fact, has long been the order in almost all nations of the world except Great Britain, the British dominions, and the United States. This country had compulsory military service in the Civil War as well as the World War but, like Great Britain, has never exacted such service of its citizens in time of peace. Bills have been introduced in several recent sessions of Congress to grant the President authority to institute conscription, without further congressional action, upon the outbreak of war. That proposal, however, has always aroused opposition. In the present session, resolutions have been offered proposing constitutional amendments to prohibit conscription for service abroad unless authorized by the voters in a national referendum.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Military Draft
Aug. 19, 2005  Draft Debates
Jan. 11, 1991  Should the U.S. Reinstate the Draft?
Jun. 13, 1980  Draft Registration
Jun. 20, 1975  Volunteer Army
Nov. 17, 1971  Rebuilding the Army
Nov. 18, 1970  Expatriate Americans
Mar. 20, 1968  Resistance to Military Service
Jun. 22, 1966  Draft Law Revision
Jan. 20, 1965  Reserve Forces and the Draft
Feb. 14, 1962  Military Manpower Policies
Jun. 03, 1954  Military Manpower
Sep. 24, 1952  National Health and Manpower Resources
Oct. 24, 1950  Training for War Service
Aug. 21, 1950  Manpower Controls
Aug. 13, 1945  Peacetime Conscription
Sep. 09, 1944  The Voting Age
Apr. 15, 1944  Universal Military Service
Feb. 17, 1942  Compulsory Labor Service
Jun. 11, 1941  Revision of the Draft System
Aug. 14, 1940  Conscription in the United States
Apr. 24, 1939  Conscription for Military Service
Military Draft
Regional Political Affairs: Europe